Robin Dance

essays on faith, aging, parenting, wandering and wondering

Navigation Menu

Princess of Pies

Posted by on Nov 9, 2017 |

BestApplePie_RobinDance_A Good Cook is like a sorceress quote

A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.
Elsa Schiaparelli


My mother-in-love is one of the best cooks on the planet. I learned that the first time I met her. Then, a college student sustained mostly by starchy, mysterious, dining hall fare, I devoured everything she put on the table; even squash casserole, a subversive compliment to her. I remember her telling me she was glad I was the kind of girl who would eat instead of picking around her plate. I suppose in its own way, that was a compliment, too, but I blushed, worried I must’ve eaten like a hog. Those glorious calories shoved in my mouth were worth the red cheeks.

Sarah was known far and wide for her cooking, and if she knew your favorite thing, she’d be sure to include it if you were coming for dinner. I’m not sure I could choose one favorite dish of hers, but her Cowboy Cookies were magical, and try as I might, I couldn’t come close to her fried chicken. Plenty of her recipes found their way into my kitchen, though, and she delighted in my phone calls when I needed to clarify a process–like making sure if one cup flour, sifted is the same thing as one cup of sifted flour (it’s not). She also insisted that it made a different to “start with flour and end with flour” when adding ingredients for her famed pound cake–I have never put it to the test, though. I think it’s best to trust the cook.

Sarah’s desserts were legendary, and everyone had their favorite (mine was her Italian Cream Cake. sigh…). A diplomat and pleaser at heart, she made sure to rotate whose favorites showed up for holiday meals when our family gathered together.

But then…





Oooooh, please DO keep reading over at Grace Table table today!
Queen of the Kitchen, Princess of the Pie, and YOU is delicious reading ?. 

Read More

Cowboy Cookies (a recipe that comes with a warning….)

Posted by on Oct 10, 2017 | 4 comments

Cowboy Cookie Recipe - Robin Dance-2


If every politician had a home-baked batch of Cowboy Cookies – my favorite cookie in the world – we might just be able to achieve world peace.


It’s hard to remain at odds when you’re devouring these jokers. Bonus? They use oatmeal, which means they’re probably healthy. Who am I to argue the merits of whole grain?

It’s been so long since I made a batch I had forgotten how delicious they are. HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN? They’re magical.

Anyway, my sweet mother-in-love shared the recipe ages ago, and it’s no-fail if you can follow instructions. I’ve added notes below the recipe, so be sure to read them before whipping up a batch.

Then, email me a thank you note with pictures, please. It’s ancient wisdom that when you take pictures, the cookies last longer.


Cowboy Cookies - Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Recipe

Cowboy Cookies

~ Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies ~

Preheat oven to 350°F


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup Crisco Shortening (NOT oil)
  • ½ cup softened butter (1 whole stick)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups sifted all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups oats*
  • 1 cup pecans* (optional, which is nuts to this Southern gal)
  • 1 small package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  1. Sift flour, soda, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.
  2. With a mixer, combine sugar, brown sugar, Crisco, butter, two eggs and vanilla. Once incorporated, add dry ingredients and mix well.
  3. Stir in the oats, chocolate chips, and pecans until well blended (I do this part by hand, not with a mixer).
  4. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
  5. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until desired doneness.


IMPORTANT Baking Notes:


  1. My original recipe called for one cup of Crisco, but I like butter, so I amended the recipe to ½ cup of shortening, ½ cup of butter. The results are spectacular. Never use margarine. Because WHY WOULD  YOU when butter is an option?
  2. This recipe can be halved or doubled.
  3. Let the butter sit at room temperature to soften. Do NOT melt it! Soft = good. Melted = bad. (Cookies will be flat.)
  4. If you’re a house divided like ours, you have permission to make half a batch with pecans, half without. I totally judge people who don’t include nuts (including my otherwise amazing husband and children).
  5. Pecans are pronounced puh-kahn, not pee in a can.
    \ pi-?kän<– right way    wrong way –> ?p?-?kan \
  6. We’re also a house divided about how to pronounce pecan.
  7. I use Old Fashioned Quaker Oats; I’ve tried the quick-cooking version before and did not like that cardboard-esque result. You won’t like it, either.
  8. The first time you try this recipe, check them at 10, then 11 minutes in. I don’t know how hot your oven bakes, and you do not want to overcook these babies.  Undercooked > Overcooked
  9. These are Whole30 compliant.
  10. The previous statement was a lie wishful thinking.


Bite out of Cookie

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookes on heart plate

In black and white, everything is timeless. Even cookies. S i g h….


Cowboy Cookie Recipe - Robin Dance

I enjoy the distinction of Messiest Cook on the Planet. Just look at all those splatters in my cookbook! Mercy.


BAKER BEWARE: if you decide to make these cookies – and I hope you do – you (and whomever you share them with) might just turn into a monster like this guy…


I’d say it’s worth the risk.


Read More

Leigh’s (Almost) Famous Shrimp and Grits Casserole

Posted by on Jun 18, 2017 | 1 comment



One of my favorite things is tasting a dish that is so delicious, I must ask for the recipe; and, then every time I make it, I think of the person who now mingles her kitchen with mine. When I had my friend Leigh’s Shrimp and Grits Casserole, I knew it was one of those. It’s easy, a little bit fancy, and diverse enough to serve for brunch or dinner. It’s a turn on traditional shrimp and grits, and if you don’t care for either, well, a) try this and you might change your mind, or b) if you’re a hard-core hater, I feel for ya. (Unless you’re like my friend Holley, who has a worse-than-Will-Smith-in-Hitch reaction to shellfish. She can’t even look at ’em.)

Leigh’s Scrumptious, Easy
Southern Shrimp and Grits Casserole

Pre-heat oven to 350°F
Lightly grease a 9×12″ baking dish

  • 4 cups of chicken broth
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup regular grits (not quick cooking)
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey jack pepper cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 6 green onions, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1½ pound fresh (or frozen) shrimp, peeled and cooked
  • 1 (10 oz) can diced tomatoes and green chilies, drained (Rotel)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  1. Bring 4 cups chicken broth and ½ teaspoon salt to boil in a saucepan; stir in grits.
  2. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Stir together grits, ¾ cup cheddar cheese, and Monterey jack cheese.
  4. Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat; add green onions, bell pepper, and garlic; sauté until tender.
  5. Stir together green onion mixture, grits mixture, shrimp, and next 3 ingredients.
  6. Pour into a lightly-greased 2-quart baking dish.
  7. Sprinkle top with remaining ¼ cup cheddar cheese.
  8. Bake at 350°F for 30-45 minutes.

Personal notes:

  • Leigh actually got the recipe from her friend Lisa; clearly good recipes keep goin’ and goin’, Energizer Bunnies of the culinary world.
  • Using half each of a red and green bell pepper make this dish especially festive at Christmas.
  • Depending on how much heat you like in a dish, you might want to use more cheddar and less jack cheese; or, if you want to add more heat, use Rotel’s spicier version of tomatoes. You can mix up the dish with your favorite cheeses, too.
  • This divides well into two smaller casseroles; keep one and give the other to someone who could use a meal!


Read More

Potato Flake Sourdough Bread Starter Recipe

Posted by on Aug 22, 2016 |

Original Sourdough Bread Recipe.jpg

Looking for a tested potato flake starter for sourdough bread that doesn’t require flour?


I finally found one that works, and I think past failures are because I didn’t pay attention to the water when adding the yeast; in order to activate the yeast, the water must be between 120°-130°F (Note: I used Fleischmann’s RapidRise yeast.). Since I have a post over at Grace Table that mentions my sourdough bread and includes the recipe to make it, I thought it might be helpful to have a recipe for starter if you don’t have access to one from a friend.


Potato Flake Bread Starter Recipe
(version that doesn’t use flour)

3 Tablespoons Instant Potato Flakes

1 Packet Fleischmann’s RapidRise Yeast (21/4  Teaspoons Dry Yeast)

½ Cup Granulated White Sugar

1 Cup Water (120°-130°F)

Pour warm water into a plastic container with a lid. Sprinkle yeast over water and stir well. Add potato flakes and sugar to yeast mixture and stir well again. Cover loosely with container lid and leave starter on counter.

Daily for the next four days, stir the starter leaving it on counter, unrefrigerated. On the 5th day, feed your starter (see below), remove one cup to make bread, and return the remainder of the starter to the refrigerator. Starter should be fed every 5-10 days and either returned to the refrigerator or a cup removed to make bread.


To Feed Starter

Every 5-10 days, take starter out of the refrigerator, and stir in the following:

1 cup warm water

½ cup granulated white sugar

3 rounded tablespoons instant potato flakes

Leave out of refrigerator 8 hours (or overnight). At that point, either return starter to refrigerator or remove one cup to make bread, returning the remainder to the fridge.


Please visit Grace Table to read Simple Neighborly Acts,
where you can also find my recipe for Sourdough Bread.

Read More

The Perfect, Most Delicious Way to Cook a Steak

Posted by on May 20, 2015 | 3 comments

The Perfect Way to Cook a Steak

Google “How to cook the perfect steak” and you’ll have 6.7 million returns telling you how to do it. Pioneer Woman, Bobby Flay, Emeril, Gordan Ramsay, Guy Fieri, Rachael Ray, Robert Irvine – even Martha Stewart – all have recipes and methods touting theirs as the best steak in the world.

But then there’s Wes. The guy next door you’ve never heard of. Wes, who makes the best steak I’ve ever had. Wes, who also happens to be my neighbor.

Lawsy, we hit the jackpot.

Wes is an analytical kind of guy who appreciates the science of cooking. He understands the relationship between acids and bases and what happens to food on a molecular level. I understand as long as Wes understands, it’s all good.

Really, REALLY good.

If you’ve already signed up for the 30-Day Protein Challenge, you know it’s not all about beef–that just happens to be my favorite type of protein. (Which made it a no-brainer to work with the Georgia Beef Board during Georgia Beef Month to promote the #ProteinChallenge.)  A slow-cooked roast with carrots and potatoes is practically my love language. Beef tacos is a family favorite. And burgers on the grill? Well, no one does ’em better than my own husband.

One of my favorite discoveries during the 30-Day Protein Challenge is all the delicious-sounding and good-for-you recipes they have. If you’ve been reluctant to try the challenge because you think you’ll be eating the same thing three meals a day for a month, you should sign up for access to so many meal ideas (all the other information is bonus).

Except for cooking a good ol’ filet or rib-eye. For the perfect steak, you’re going to want to do it Wes’ way. Anything else is sloppy seconds.

Wes’ World Rocking, Life-Altering, Magical
Way to Cook the Perfect Steak*

Preparing the perfect steak


  1. Buy high quality steaks from your favorite grocer. My favorite is a filet but my husband will choose a rib-eye for the marbling every time.
  2. Lightly coat steaks in corn oil, about a teaspoon per side. Wes uses Mazola, which works out just fine for us, because that’s all I’ll use for the Best (Apple Pie) Crust in the world.
  3. Season heavily with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, coarsely ground.  Apply equal amounts of both the salt and the pepper, and be careful to season with respect to thickness of the steak.
  4. Heat a large, seasoned cast iron skillet to very hot on a propane burner outside; you’re going to sear the steaks, and at this high of a temperature, it’s best to do so outside because they will smoke.
  5. Sear at high heat two minutes per side or until outside is a nice dark brown (not black).  After taking them off, allow to rest at least 5 minutes.
  6. Finish in 500° oven or grill (indirectly only) 10-20 min until desired temp is reached.  I use a baking pan, but a rack on top of a pan is ideal.  Finishing will take some practice; each steak is different–i.e., ribeye cooks different than filet. Or you can feel the steaks with your finger to judge the doneness. A meat thermometer can help as well.

My friends at the Georgia Beef Board suggest medium rare as the optimal level, cooking to an internal temperature of 145°.

During the searing process the steak should reach approximately 100°. At this point you can actually put the steaks in the fridge and finish them in the oven later or even the next day.

Make sure to allow time for your steaks to rest at least 5-7 minutes before cutting.


Be sure to sign up for the 30-Day Protein Challenge for daily tips, recipes and great inspiration to eat better, in order to feel better. 

Also, if you haven’t yet entered to win one of four prize packs sponsored by the Georgia Beef Board (including $100 toward beef at your favorite grocer’s), there’s still time! Enter here.




*Which Wes actually got from his friend Laurence…which is very similar to Alton Brown’s method of preparation.  


Read More

Your Favorite New Side Dish: Orzo and Wild Rice

Posted by on Mar 14, 2015 | 2 comments

Orzo and Wild Rice - J Alexanders Copycat Recipe

My friend Stephanie has RAVED about the dish forever: Orzo and Wild Rice from J. Alexanders (in Chattanooga). Typically when I’ve eaten there, I’ll opt for a side dish that might just have a wee more calories… Loaded baked potato or wild rice–is it really a question?

But yesterday I hosted a birthday lunch for a friend and I wanted something different and delicious. My main dish was a grilled chicken salad (not a mayo version but tossed with grapes, tarragon and oodles of wonderfulness) and I wanted something special to pair with it. J. Alexander’s Orzo and Wild Rice came to mind so I googled copycat recipes and found several.

The dish is colorful and beautiful and brimming with flavor. Every person at lunch got a second helping and wanted the recipe.


Orzo and Wild Rice - J. Alexanders

Mmmmmm! Can’t you almost TASTE all that flavor??


Below is my adaptation of CD Kitchen’s version (mostly the same with a few modifications). I’ve added Cooks Notes below so you can see what I did differently.

Orzo & Wild Rice
~ a J. Alexander’s copycat recipe ~

  • 2 cups cooked Rice Select Tri-Colored Orzo (it’s so much prettier than plain!)
  • 1 cup cooked wild rice 
  • 3 tablespoons diced red onions
  • 3 tablespoons Craisins 
  • 3 tablespoons corn niblets
  • 4 ½ tablespoons diced orange bell pepper
  • 4 ½  tablespoons diced green bell pepper
  • 2+ tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Orzo & Wild Rice Dressing

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped



Cook orzo and wild rice according to package instructions. Rinse (or “shock”) in cold water and drain well. Refrigerate. While cooking and chilling, chop up ingredients.

Gently toss together pasta, rice, veggies, herbs and dressing. Refrigerate at least two hours and serve cold.

Dressing: Reserving vegetable and olive oil, place remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir until blended. Slowly drizzle the oil into your bowl while whisking into ingredients; I prefer using my immersion blender with the whisk attachment because it does the work for me!

Cook’s Notes:

  • Original CC recipe calls for currants; I keep Craisins on hand and decided it wasn’t worth it to buy something extra if I had a good alternative as a staple.
  • Original recipe calls for 2 Tbls corn niblets; since I steamed a whole bag of corn, I added an extra tablespoon. I like the color it adds, plus corn is a secondary love language :).
  • Original recipe called for 3 Tbls each of yellow/red/green bell pepper. I already had green and orange, so I just made sure to have 9 Tbls total. Colorful peppers are healthy AND add so much beauty to a dish. Don’t just go with green.
  • DO NOT USE DRIED HERBS FOR THIS RECIPE!! Fresh basil and parsley make ALL the difference!!!
  • Original recipe called for canola oil; I stopped buying that ages ago so used vegetable oil.
  • You’ll pay a premium for tri-colored orzo, but to me, worth it.
  • I used Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice & it was delicious…maybe because of the flavor pack.

Make this dish SOON and tell me what you think! In the meantime, be sure to pin it and share it with your friends…they’ll be glad you did!

J. Alexander's Wild Rice and Orzo

Read More

Are you on the mailing list?


Get updates delivered hot and fresh to your inbox.

PLUS receive exclusive content reserved ONLY for my subscribers!

You have Successfully Subscribed!